This easy red velvet cupcake recipe is one that you can whip up to perfection in no time. Top with my favorite cream cheese frosting, for the most perfect cupcake ever.
I adore red velvet. Adoration might not even be a strong enough word. This is absolutely pure love-a forever and ever I do kind of love. Like walk me down the aisle, friend. Me and red velvet will never part ways.
Over the years, I have played around with this cupcake recipe and although the original was good, I found it had a bit too much oil and left a little bit of oil in the bottom of the wells after it’s baked.
So I decided to use half butter and half oil. The butter helps to create a tender, fluffy cupcake while the oil helps to make it a moist one. Using half and half creates the perfect red velvet cupcake.
Are Red Velvet Cupcakes just chocolate?
If you are somehow unfamiliar with red velvet let me drop some quick knowledge on you. It is a buttermilk based cupcake with a hint of cocoa, and of course red food coloring added in.
Here is a fun fact for you from Cheesecake.com according to history, during World War II, because foods were being rationed bakers used boiled beets to enhance the color of their cakes and also to help retain moisture.
It wasn’t until the 1920s, that a man was trying to sell more vanilla extract and food dye that the supposed original Red Velvet Cake was born. Huh, who knew? And I know some people shy away from the food coloring and still prefer to use the beet method. No beets for me please. I’ll save the beets for my salad.
Do I Have To Use Red Food Coloring?
I completely understand if you don’t want to use red food coloring. So I wanted to give you some options if you still want to make the cake but can’t or don’t want to use red food coloring. I haven’t tested these all out myself, but here are five alternatives to red food coloring from The Kitchn:
- Red Beet Juice
- Beetroot powder might also be an option- I haven’t tried this but I would add the powder to my dry ingredients and sift as normal
- Cranberries boiled in water
- Pomegranate juice
- Hibiscus flowers steeped in a bit of hot water until cooled
Just keep in mind they might impart some flavor or have some effect on the texture of the overall cake!
And you can also now buy all natural food coloring! How awesome is that? You might like India Tree Nature’s Colors from Craftsy. Or Amazon has a few varieties of natural food colorings that I think are worth checking out. I’ve tried the all natural food colors and they work just fine but your red velvet cupcakes won’t be “red red” is all.
- Cake flour – I love using cake flour because it has a lower protein content than regular AP flour which means you get a light and fluffy cupcake in the end. If you don’t have any you can use AP flour, or make your own cake flour (just know this will affect your results in the end).
- Baking soda
- Cocoa powder – Red velvet has a hint of cocoa powder added to the mixture. You want to use unsweetened cocoa powder, and not dutch process. You can read more here about natural cocoa vs dutch process cocoa.
- Unsalted butter
- Canola oil – You can use another neutral-tasting oil but this is an oil-based cake recipe, which means it comes together easily and results in moist cupcakes!
- Buttermilk – A true red velvet cake is made with buttermilk to give it that tangy flavor, adds moisture, and reacts with the baking soda. If you don’t have any you can make your own buttermilk.
- Vanilla extract
How to make red velvet cupcakes from scratch:
Combine dry ingredients. In a mixing bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt and set aside.
Cream butter and sugar. In a second mixing bowl with a hand mixer or in your stand mixer with paddle attachment cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes on medium speed.
Add wet ingredients. Add egg and beat to combine. Add vanilla, oil, and red food coloring.
Alternate the flour and buttermilk. Stir vinegar into buttermilk. Alternate the flour and buttermilk mixture, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Beat just until combined. Do not overmix.
Bake. Divide the batter between the prepared paper liners, filling each about 2/3 full. Bake for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.
- Measure correctly. Be sure to measure your flour correctly. Over measuring your flour could result in a tough dense cupcake. Use the spoon and level method.
- Check your leavening agents! Make sure your leavening agents are fresh. The key to cupcakes rising perfectly is make sure your baking powder and baking soda haven’t expired. If you are not sure you can test to see if they bubble. Add a a teaspoon of baking soda to a a few tablespoons of vinegar. Add a teaspoon of baking powder to a few tablespoons of warm water. If they bubble, they are good to use! If not, then throw them out and start over.
- Do not overfill. Make sure to not overfill your cupcake wells. Overfilled cupcakes will create a mess when they rise, stick to the pans, and also deflate after they cool. It’s one of the reasons your cupcakes sink in the middle.
- Cool properly. Once baked, it’s essential to take them out of the pan and let them cool on a cooling rack. If you leave them in the pan, they will continue to bake from “carryover heat”, which means your cupcakes could come out perfect and then end up being being dry if left in the pan.
- Frost when cool. Frost your cupcakes after they have cooled completely. If you are new to decorating cupcakes, check out my Ultimate Guide To Decorating Cupcakes! I also just used one cupcake and crumbled it to use as a decoration. It’s one easy way to decorate your cupcakes. Check out my 9 Cupcake Decorating Ideas for more inspiration!
- Use two non-stick cupcake pans. Be sure to use a non-stick cupcake pan when baking cupcakes. And I always recommend having two on hand, so you put both in your oven if they fit (or quickly swap one out of the oven and put your second pan in without having to wait for the first one to cool).
- Rotate your pans. For cupcakes that all come out perfectly, I like to set my timer for half the time the recipe calls for in order to remember to rotate my pans halfway through baking. Most ovens have what are called “hot spots” where it’s hotter in certain areas. So cupcakes that are in the “hot spots” can bake faster than others, so by rotating your pans halfway through you can ensure they evenly bake.
I made these cupcakes with cream cheese frosting which is very common.
However, traditionally red velvet cupcakes and cake were served with ermine frosting(also known as flour or boiled milk) icing.
You can make the red velvet cupcakes up to 2 days in advance, unfrosted. Just wrap in plastic wrap and keep at room temperature. You can also make the cupcakes and freeze for up to 2 months. Learn how to freeze your cupcakes here. The frosting can be made up to a week in advance. Just store in your refrigerator for up to a week. You may need to place them back in your mixer and rewhip back to the same consistency. If the cupcakes are frosted, it can stay fresh at room temperature for 1 to 2 days, according to Spruce Eats.
No unfortunately you can’t. You can read the differences between natural cocoa and dutch process cocoa.
So when it comes to swapping out these cocoa powder you will be upsetting that chemical balance that was originally achieved when the recipe was written. So save yourself the headache and use the cocoa powder called for.
More Recipes To Try:
If you love baking cupcakes as much as I do, then be sure to snag my buttercream cheatsheet to learn how to easily customize your vanilla buttercream!
Red Velvet Cupcakes
For the cupcakes
- 2½ cups (300 grams) cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick, 113 g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- 1½ cups (300 grams) granulated white sugar
- 2 large eggs room temperature
- 1/2 cup (120 mL) canola oil
- 2 Tablespoon (1 oz.) liquid red food coloring
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup (240 mL) buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
For the frosting:
- 8 oz. (227 grams) cream cheese room temperature
- 8 tbsp. (113 g) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- 2½ cups (313 grams) confectioners’ (powdered, icing) sugar
- Prep pans and preheat. Preheat the oven to 350° F/180oC. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.
- Combine dry ingredients. In a mixing bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt and set aside.
- Cream butter and sugar. In a second mixing bowl with a hand mixer or in your stand mixer with paddle attachment cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes on medium speed. Add egg and beat to combine. Add vanilla, oil, and red food coloring.
- Alternate the flour and buttermilk. Stir vinegar into buttermilk. Add and alternate the flour and buttermilk mixture, starting and ending with the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Beat just until combined. Do not overmix.
- Bake. Divide the batter between the prepared paper liners, filling each about 2/3 full. Bake for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.
- Make the frosting. To make the frosting, combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until well combined and smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Mix in the vanilla extract. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar and pinch of salt until totally incorporated, increase the speed and then beat until smooth. Frost cooled cupcakes as desired. (I used a large, unlabeled star tip to frost these cupcakes.)
- Tools: Cupcake Pans | Cooling Racks | Piping/Pastry Bags | Whisk | Ateco Tip #847 | Cupcake Liners
- Make Ahead and storage: You can make the red velvet cupcakes up to 2 days in advance, unfrosted. Just wrap in plastic wrap and keep at room temperature. You can also make the cupcakes and freeze for up to 2 months. The frosting can be made up to a week in advance. Just store in your refrigerator for up to a week. You may need to place them back in your mixer and rewhip back to the same consistency. If the cupcakes are frosted, it can stay fresh at room temperature for 1 to 2 days.
- Cake flour: If you don’t have cake flour, you can use AP flour but your cupcakes won’t be as light and fluffy. Or you can make your own cake flour by measuring out the 2 1/2 cups AP flour, remove 2 1/2 Tbsp. Replace with 2 1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch and then sift. Results won’t be quite the same but will come close!
- Buttermilk: If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, then you can replace with 1 cup milk, and 1 Tbsp. lemon juice (or vinegar) mixed together. Let it sit for 10 minutes to thicken/react.
- Red food coloring: You can reduce or omit the food coloring, or use an all-natural alternative. I haven’t tested with an all-natural coloring.
- Layer cake: Here is my layer cake recipe.
- Check out my cupcake baking tips!